Newport Beach Jazz Party 2012: Newport Beach, CA, February 16-19, 2012
Newport Beach Marriot Hotel
Newport Beach, CA
February 16-19, 2012
An abundance of top-level jazz in the glamorous ocean-side setting of the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel has made the annual Newport Beach Jazz Party one of the most popular on the circuit. The extended President's Day weekend event attracted listeners from 27 states and Canada, and as far away as Australia, England and Austria. The party was billed "right down the middle and straight-ahead jazz," and fulfilled that premise.
Thrilling tributes, swinging big bands and exhilarating combos filled 40-plus hours of live jazz from some eighty musicians. The strongest audience response of the weekend was earned by Australian trumpeter James Morrison, whose virtuosity on multiple brass instruments had long ago gained him the nickname "The Wonder from Down Under." He lived up to that billing with incredible range and power that involved breathtaking leaps into awesome heights. He's also a musical gymnast on trombone, shifting with elastic ease from extremely high notes to bottom-low sounds, always with agreeable charm, never an egotistical attitude. As a leader, Morrison enticed with the ballad "The Second Time Around," then blazed white-hot on "Basin Street Blues." He never failed to thrill, entertain and surprise, as he once did by sitting at the piano to create a left-hand accompaniment while playing trumpet with his right.
A crowd favorite was a solo set by Romanian pianist Marian Petrescu. Quicksilver treble runs and rumbling bass chords replicated the dazzling keyboard ability of Oscar Peterson, but lacked the feeling of the late great's luminous heart and soul. Repeated cascades of notes made it seem like Petrescu was playing to impress rather than to express, more Roger Williams than Oscar Peterson. In combo sets, Petrescu's solos and support work came across as more jazz-inspired.
Another crowd-pleaser was Los Angeles-born guitarist Graham Dechter, at 25 displaying sheer virtuosity and a warm, swinging sound reminiscent of Joe Pass and Joe Pass. He sprinted through "Broadway" with dazzling dexterity, then created murmured nuances on "The Nearness of You" before getting downright greasy for the Duke Ellington classic, "I Ain't Got Nothin' But the Blues." The audience seemed mesmerized during every moment of his set with the stellar Jeff Hamilton.
The Hamilton trio always delivers precise connectivity and inventive arrangements, many written by pianist Tamir Hendelman, who created stunning solo after solo. The trio's bassist, Christoph Luty, had a recent hand injury, but sub John Clayton fit perfectly and, as always, never played an extraneous note. Hamilton's expert use of cymbals is unparalleled, and the element of using only his hands and fingertips is always refreshing to watch and hear.
A "Four Others" tribute to Woody Herman's famed sax foursome was emphatically delivered by leader Harry Allen, Ken Peplowski, Rickey Woodard and Adam Schroeder. Their tight harmony and imaginative solos infused new life into the legendary chart. The quartet also delivered fresh explorations of Irving Berlin's hit "Be Careful, It's My Heart," and Allen's "Great Scott" homage to Scott Hamilton.
For many, the event's three powerhouse orchestras brought the weekend's highest peaks. Opening night's "Basie, Benny and Buddy Big Band" lived up to its billing of tribute to these valued icons of jazz (the concept created by trumpeter Byron Stripling, whose other professional obligations precluded his participation).
The Count Basie focus featured the band's drummer for 15 years, Butch Miles, who powerfully propelled that memorable sound. Familiar charts such as "Moten Swing" and "Corner Pocket" provided elegant Italian pianist Rossano Sportiello plenty of opportunity to channel Basie's great swing and stride licks. Peplowski led the Benny Goodman element, playing classic clarinet on gems from the Fletcher Henderson book, "King Porter Stomp" showcasing two of L.A.'s top trumpeters Wayne Bergeron and Willie Murillo. A favorite Goodman chart, "Down South Camp Meeting," was followed by a lilting rendition of "Spring Is Here" that showcased Peplowski's impressive chops. The Buddy Rich salute featured Miles again, driving the band on "Love for Sale" and "Time Check" to rebirth the musical excitement that was Rich's trademark.